Leah Fisher
Oct 19, 2005
Midterm report

Parrot Conservation in Fiji

Papageno Eco Resort in Kadavu, Fiji was the sight of my 2 month long internship which introduced me to the conservation and preservation of the Kadavu Shinning Parrot. Bioszfera Foundation runs the Kadavu Shining Parrot Project in conjunction with Papageno Eco Resort. Bioszfera is a small conservation NGO, registered in Hungary. I had discovered this project through online sources. Intrigued by what I read, I signed on. I had originally gone to participate in a project which was to focus on active conservation and research of this endemic species. While at times this was my focus, upon completion the greatest outcome was an insider’s look into third world conservation and an in depth look into the culture and conservation aspects which are embedded into this society. The atmosphere which this internship was conducted in truly fed into the incredible experience which I feel privileged to walk away with.

Kadavu is a 200km2 island located in the South Pacific which is approximately home to 4 endemic bird species including the Kadavu Shinning Parrot or Kaka. Because of the small island environment, the Kaka is at risk by even the smallest changes made to its environment. Though Kadavu remains relatively isolated from the outside world, the effects of the developed world are slowly encroaching on the local people of Kadavu and ultimately Kaka. Kadavu has witnessed massive habitat destruction due to wood collection and clearing spaces for plantations. Those who once lived off the land in a sustainable fashion are being introduced to a system based on western values and are increasingly changing their practices to fit this change. Tourism is becoming increasingly popular. Although, the resorts located on the island are small scale, many locals are employed here. With an income, locals are able to afford western goods. The majority of these goods are not biodegradable. After use, there is no system to recycle or throw away. Pollution from these products becomes a major issue. These, along with many other issues lead to the current developing state of Kadavu.

Conducting this internship in this setting I found to be both insightful yet at times very frustrating. Shortly before arriving, I received an outline of the goals for the project. I assumed that many of the goals were already under progress. However, shortly after arrival, I learned that much of what was stated was currently non existent. In an effort to not be discouraged by this, I assured myself that information would be readily available and prove to be a good base in which to get this project off the ground.

One of the main aims of the project was to initiate a captive breeding project. However, solid scientific information was hard to come by. To the best of my knowledge research had yet to be done on this specific species due to the species exclusivity. Therefore, we had no solid breeding or population statistics or basic knowledge about any of the endemic species. This proved to be very discouraging, however I soon realized I was surrounded by a wealth of knowledge, that being the locals. In addition, over time, I was able to contact some outside sources such as Bird Life International and Peace Corps workers working on similar projects. Through these organizations I learned that this particular species had never been bred in captivity and further more, that captive breeding was usually only done as a last resort. Since this species is only listed as vulnerable, we decided to direct our efforts in a different direction, focusing on reintroduction, research and education.

With these as our new objectives, Daniel, my co-intern, and I set out designing new projects. In order to meet our goal of reintroducing our captive birds, we initiated an eradication plan of the Goshawks or Mynah. This invasive bird has decreased native bird populations by competing for habitat and food. To meet this goal, we began replicating Mynah traps and placing them in nearby villages and around the resort property. These had about a 50% success rate. We would check the traps around the Papageno three times a week. Many times, the bait in the traps would be missing. The Mynah are highly intelligent and would many times succeed in retrieving the food in the traps without being caught. The door to the trap closes as pressure is applied to the bottom plate of the trap. As a bird walks in the door closes behind, trapping them inside. However, the bottom plate only covers a certain area. Myna, would sometime avoid the plate, retrieve the food, and then exit again without weighting the plate.

In addition to an effort to meet our reintroduction goal, we set out collecting different seeds found in the surrounding forest to place in the aviary in an effort to get the captive birds used to eating what is native. With this, we used the knowledge of the locals, who pointed out numerous seeds and fruit which were believed to be eaten by the Kaka. In particular, one such seed proved to be well liked within the aviary. However they still preferred packaged non-native imported seeds and fruit. Fortunately, mangoes, which grow native and are highly abundant, were popular sources of food for the Kaka.

In an effort to ease transition into the wild, we also began to reduce our contact with the birds within the aviary. Feeding was the only time which we entered the aviary. Unfortunately, the staff quarters for the resort were being constructed right next to the aviary. Because of this, the Kaka are familiar to human voice and contact. Nevertheless we were confident that the majority of the Kaka were still timid enough to stay away from humans.

As for the research aspect, we began by working the area around the resort. This included observing habits and territories, and marking possible nest sites with GPS. We were told by the locals that the Kaka liked to nest in the mangroves, this seemed a little unusual to me for I had never seen or heard the distinct call of the Kaka in the mangroves. However, I soon learned that it wasn’t currently nesting season, which would explain their absence. Nevertheless, Timoty the chief’s son of Naivakarauniniu invited me to go nest hunting in the mangroves near his village. He proved to be a great resource. He pointed out numerous hollowed out trees where the Kaka had previously nested. We mapped these with GPS. I repeatedly mapped possible nesting sites on many trips around the island, however, in order to get a full picture of nesting sites and to possibly begin a population estimate, much more time, energy, and help would be needed. Nevertheless, I felt we got a good sense of the nest sites in and around Papageno.

Our final goal, working on education, proved to be quite frustrating, however very much of the learning experience of the local culture. The inner working of the village as well as the schools proved to be quite complex when viewing it as an outsider. Our original plan was to go to the schools and give a presentation on the Kaka and other endemic species of Kadavu and then relate that to habitat destruction. However, the lessons in Fijan schools are strictly set. In order to add a lesson, we would first have to run it across the educational board in Suva, located on the main island and this would take much time. In order to avoid this, we thought we could just go to villages and share what we had learned and discuss the effects which habitat destruction has on not only the Kaka, but their lifestyles as well since they rely so much off the land.

Although many of the Fijans we met were quite enthusiastic about inviting me to their village, I entered into the villages with the idea of talking about the Kaka, somewhat hesitantly. I did not feel comfortable going into a village, and telling them how I thought they should be living in order to preserve habitat and ultimately the Kaka. For one, I am a woman, and learned quickly that women culturally have somewhat of a reserved role within the village. Most villages are run predominantly by men. What I observed was that women tend to sit behind men at village meetings and remain quiet throughout. I felt that at these village meetings, their were open opportunities to discuss our goals, however not wanting to offended anyone, I remained mostly silent.

To confront this, on my trips to the village I brought along pamphlets with information on endemic birds to Kadavu which we had received through Birds Life. I passed these out to the village chief and in some instances different people who were in someway related to the school in hope that these would filter down to the kids. However, these pamphlets were not written in the Kadavan dialect, so for many, especially young people, these were unreadable.

Despite these goals which we went through great effort to meet, at times, I felt very discouraged. I felt as if I had accomplished little towards achieving what I thought I would when I first arrived. However, I soon began to realize that in this environment things were going to take some time. This was because of numerous factors, such as communication difficulties, as in no phone or computer access, as well as the issues surrounding transportation. There are no roads, let alone cars on most of Kadavu. Boat and foot traffic were the most common form of transportation. Yet, with gas prices so high boats were used sparingly. This greatly limited how we conducted our objectives. However, I soon realized that word got out about who we were and what we were trying to accomplish via word of mouth. Surprisingly, this proved to be quite effective.

By just being there, we were beginning to make a difference. The Fijans I met seemed very interested in learning about who I was, where I came from, and why I was there. And soon word got out that we were trying to “save the parrots”. Because of this, locals began giving us Kaka’s which they had as pets.

In this matter we received 3 new birds which we put into the aviary. The first bird that we received was extremely malnourished and had to be nourished back to health. Because of this, we soon formed the vision, that our aviary would become the halfway house for captive parrots. Since then 4 parrots have arrived at the aviary and of those 2 have been released back into the wild. Of the two, one disappeared after a few hours. The other, stayed around the aviary and the food platforms which we set up around the resort. In addition we also release 5 other parrots. Of these, 1 disappeared and the others continue to be seen periodically throughout the resort.

In conclusion, my experience on Kadavu has become a very influential part of my life. The knowledge which I gained, not only through this project but also about another culture as well as myself, has given me a whole new perspective on how I look at the environmental issues facing the world. I see westernization as the main culprit for environmental degradation on Kadavu. For example, an impact which westernization has had is the increase in foreign goods. Before western influences, Kadavans used only what the island and surrounding waters produced. Once used, it was thrown on the ground or back into the waters to feed back into the cycle. Now, with the influx of foreign products brought by westernization, this is not possible. As much of the developing world struggles with this same issue, Kadavu must strive to confront these issues. Locally involved projects such as the Kadavu Shining Parrot project are a step in the right direction.